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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Lennon's short hops: Collins a lot like Valentine

Mets minor league field coordinator Terry Collins has

Mets minor league field coordinator Terry Collins has been named the next manager of the Mets. (Feb. 24 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

In an effort to overhaul their farm system, the Mets reached out to a two-time former manager with a Dodgers background and experience in Japan.

No, it wasn't Bobby Valentine. He still works for ESPN. But the similarities between Valentine and Terry Collins are uncanny - from the high motor to the Dodgers pedigree to the fact that each did stints managing in Japan.

The comparison is inevitable, and in these parts, where Valentine is viewed as some kind of conquering hero in exile, it's a compliment.

"I have had a lot of people that know the two of us say that," Collins said. "A lot of them. People in Japan say the same thing."

In listing the potential replacements for Jerry Manuel, should his final season end abruptly, Collins' name usually is included along with newly hired scout Bob Melvin, bench coach Dave Jauss and later down the line, Brooklyn Cyclones manager Wally Backman.

But Collins, 60, may be more valuable in his current role as minor-league field coordinator, an ambiguous title that carries with it a very important goal: assess and improve the Mets' organization at every level.

"I know the importance of the job, and that is to make sure we're producing major-league baseball players," said Collins, who had the same role with the Dodgers from 2002-06. "We all want them to play in New York. But if Omar [Minaya] needs to make a deal, we've got to have guys who other teams want. That's what this job is about."

The Mets' minor-league system also could use an image makeover after Tony Bernazard's reported misconduct last season, and even worse, just one affiliate had a record of .500 or better - their Dominican summer league squad (49-23). The rest of the clubs combined for a .447 winning percentage (366-453), and Triple-A Buffalo, where Collins remains immensely popular from his managing days with the Bisons, was viewed as a civic disaster at 56-87.

"I'm not going against anything Tony did - his ideas were his ideas," Collins said. "I didn't experience what happened. I've heard lots and lots and lots of stories. But it's about playing baseball. It's about enjoying the game and learning how to deal with struggles, because it's a long, hard road. To make guys miserable is not what we got into this for.

"The object is when the game's over, to have a father leave the park with his son and say, 'That's how you play. That's how you're supposed to play the game.' " 

K-Rod's new weapon

Francisco Rodriguez created quite a spectacle this past week when his new white Lamborghini was delivered to the players' lot at Digital Domain Park on the back of a flatbed truck. But K-Rod is more excited about another new toy he's unveiled in spring training - a drop-dead slider.

Rodriguez said he had not used the pitch in two years, not even during his record-breaking 62-save season with the Angels in 2008. Coming back from his long bout with pinkeye, however, Rodriguez has looked better than ever, and the slider becomes a devastating addition to his mid-90s fastball and lethal changeup.

On Wednesday, Rodriguez struck out the side - twice getting hitters to swing and miss on the slider - and then froze the third with another slider that broke down into the zone.

K-Rod actually throws his changeup harder, between 83 and 88 mph, and it has a later, shallow drop. With the slider, thrown at 78 to 83 mph, it has a loopier 12-6 break that makes it almost like a slurve. He also plans to use a sinking two-seam fastball to give opposing hitters more to think about.

"That's the idea," Rodriguez said. "I want to mess with the hitters' minds this year."

The situation

A little bit of Virginia Beach mixed with "The Jersey Shore" this past week when David Wright and Mike "The Situation" teamed to film a viral ad campaign for Vitamin Water. The theme of the ad, which launches April 1, involves Wright looking for a new trainer after last year's disappointing season. The Mets' third baseman picks The Situation, known on the show for his ripped physique and marathon tanning sessions. Wright said The Situation is not much of a baseball fan, but Jeff Francoeur did get an autographed photo for the Braves' Brian McCann, a Jersey Shore junkie.

Hope his kid won't someday be named Citi

The Braves added another potential Mets foil to the NL East rivalry this week when they announced that rookie phenom Jayson Heyward, 20, will be their Opening Day rightfielder.

And just when Joe Torre could spell his name, too. The Dodgers told Doug Mientkiewicz that he would not make the team out of spring training. Mientkiewicz, 35, was attempting to return from surgery for a separated shoulder last season.

Will this make the "Moneyball" movie? It looks as if the A's might not get their money's worth from Ben Sheets after paying him $10 million for the upcoming year. Sheets already had

a 17.28 ERA before a squad of minor-leaguers ripped him for nine hits and three runs in six-plus innings.

Number one with a bullet

The Dodgers named Vicente Padilla their Opening Day starter, five months after he was accidentally shot through the leg at home in Nicaragua. Asked about the decision, Padilla said, "Thank God I was able to maintain my health."

Finally, Murph and Sully can map out the summah

The Red Sox unveiled their starting rotation for the start of the season: Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Tim Wakefield and Clay Buchholz. Wakefield is holding the spot of Daisuke Matsuzaka, who will be on the disabled list.

Good. Now cut those George Lopez promos

The commissioner's office announced that the off day between Games 4 and 5 of each LCS have been eliminated to help "condense" the playoffs. The Special Committee for On-Field Matters pledged that more changes are forthcoming.

Next week, Twister, bocce ball and beer pong

The Yankees continued their spring training fun-o-rama this past week by staging a paintball outing that included the front office, coaching staff and beat reporters for the team. Hitting coach Kevin Long pulled a hamstring.

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